By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department held a fair Aug. 2. Two days later, Mayor Mike Duggan announced he will extend the moratorium on shutoffs until Aug. 25. The extension is to give time to “redesign bill collections.”
The aggressive bill collection and shutoff policy established in March by Emergency Manger Kevyn Orr brought unwanted national and international criticism. It is a policy designed to make DWSD more attractive to prospective buyers or suburban interests. It has created widespread suffering and chaos in the process.
The mayor must separate himself from this shutoff policy and take a stand to shift rates away from usage to the ability to pay. This shift is the heart of the People’s Affordability Plan adopted by the City Council in 2006. Further, the mayor must make clear to the court-appointed mediators deciding the fate of the water department that water is a public trust, not a private profit center.
So far, Mayor Duggan has done nothing more than offer a kinder, gentler shutoff policy. “If we make it more convenient for Detroiters to make payment arrangements and we do a better job of communicating the available help for those truly in need, I’m convinced the great majority of Detroiters will step up and take care of their bills,” Duggan said.
Does the mayor seriously think nearly half the city is behind in their bills because they found the service center hours “inconvenient?”
Such a view is nonsensical and unrealistic. If Mayor Duggan talked to people at the water fair he would have heard how unfair this current system is.
People gathered as early as 6:30 a.m. to talk to service center personnel. Here is some of what they said to the People’s Water Board:
■ “I work full time. I had $250 for a $1,300 water bill. I called DWSD, they told me to come today, that my bill would get paid. I found out that they don’t have any money to help with bills. That’s false hope. They don’t have any money to pay anything.”
■ “My water was supposed to be included in my rent. My landlord didn’t pay my water for a year. I have no other choice. I have children.”
■ “They’re charging people $112 to put the bill in their name. I had just paid $300 the week before, then they wanted another $112.”
■ “They’ve been doing an estimated bill on my house for four years. I don’t know why. They owe me $1440, and are about to cut off my water because I owe $148.”
■ “My water’s been off for a month, and they still sent me a bill. I called THAW to get help with my bill. They said they would call me back in 5-7 business days, that was more than two weeks ago.”
■ “Our water bill went from $150 to $317 to $717, and we’re hardly home.”
■ “My water bill is $260-$300 per month. I only make $625 per month. If it weren’t for my daughter, I wouldn’t be able to make it.”
■ “My water’s been off for almost two months. I waited on THAW to call me back for over two weeks; they never did call.”
■ “They turned my water off seven days before they were supposed to. I would have had the money in five days.”
■ “All this is just smoke and mirrors. It’s a cover-up (because) the judge says you have to have a program in place.”
■ “This is chaos. These people have no idea what they’re doing. This is damage control because we’re raising hell about the water. There’s no money to help us.”
The mayor should step out from behind Emergency Manager Orr and do the right thing. Stop the shutoffs. Turn the water on. Implement the People’s Water Affordability Plan.
Unless the mayor represents the interests of the people, taking charge of the water department will be little more than one more failed public relations effort by Kevyn Orr.